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Issue #1628      February 26, 2014

Unionists protest at attack on rights

AMWU (Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union) members have let their feet do the talking in protest at attacks on freedom of speech and assembly waged across Australia by Coalition governments masquerading under the cloak of “public interest” or “law and order.”

About 4,000 unionists and community supporters took to the streets of Melbourne last week to draw attention to the “Silencing Act” of Victoria’s Napthine government, which is aimed directly at the ability of community groups and unions to be able to freely protest in public places.

Four busloads of AMWU ship builders from Williamstown’s BAE yards travelled into the city to join comrades at the Victoria Trades Hall Council rally, which marched from Carlton through CBD streets to the State Parliament steps.

They were protesting at proposed amendments to the state’s Summary Offences Act 1966, which will add to the arsenal of police powers by giving officers the ability to “move on” people from protests, pickets and rallies.

Police will also have a new power to impose “exclusion orders” against individuals, excluding them from coming within a set distance of a public place where there is a gathering such as a picket or rally. Failure to obey the order can result in a jail term of two years.

The powers follow strong-arm police tactics against residents and environmental groups who have tried to stop preliminary work on the Napthine government’s infrastructure project for an $8 billion road tunnel through Melbourne’s inner north.

It is the Coalition government’s key political hope for its re-election in November, but the new law has drawn fire from the Human Rights Law Centre, civil liberties groups and unions.

Victorian AMWU secretary Steve Dargavel said the anti-democratic law coincided with a Coalition national agenda to silence its critics.

“This is a growing national trend to stifle dissent; it’s part of the broader Coalition agenda to try to reign in the powers of unions to represent members. They are trying to gag working people,” he said.

AMWU member Charles Scerri said he attended the rally because he was fearful Australia would go the way of some overseas countries where police attacked anyone trying to protest.

“It’s not just about unions, it’s about freedom of speech and people’s rights to peacefully assemble anywhere,” he said.

Fellow shipbuilder Jake Goodwin said: “We were talking to some of the cops here and quietly they agree, they’re members of a union, they’ve got interests outside work and they want their kids to be able to have a free life.”

Next article – Trans-Pacific Partnership – “Strangling democracy”

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